In Memoriam: Ran Hennes (1930-2010)

Ran in the Honors “Geezer Room” (2005)

On September 13th, Ran Hennes, a good friend of mine passed away. Unfortunately, I was unable to see him before he passed, and I was also unable to attend what I’m sure was a beautiful and touching memorial for him at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle on October 3rd. Given this, and given how heavily Ran’s loss has weighed on me during the past few weeks, I thought it wouldn’t be inappropriate of me to share some of my memories here.

I met Ran while I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington—specifically, when I became involved in the UW Honors Program. Ran was a professor in the UW history department and the Associate Director at UW Honors. And he was really the heart of Honors. Back when the program was much smaller than it is today, Ran and Jeanne Bayer advised all of the incoming students with such personal care and open friendliness that it made a deep impression on many. Once upon a time, the Honors kids came up with an organization called the “RRC”—with the idea being that the acronym didn’t stand for anything so that ambitious Honors types wouldn’t be tempted to list it on their resumes. But one of the made-up names for the RRC was the “Random Ran-imals Club” and for many years (possibly still?), shirts were made with a stylized version of Ran’s ever-so-distinctive face as a symbol of Honors itself:


Anyway, Ran was always there for the students and many of them really embraced his easy-going manner and quick wit. I think that I was rather afraid to get to know him for some time, partly because of his general popularity, and partly because walking into a professor’s office simply to chat was never something that I was particularly good at. I even took a seminar on World War II literature with Ran and Jeanne, and I don’t think I ever really talked with him.

But after my sophomore year in college, I joined the staff of the UW Honors Program, and ever so slowly, I started to get to know Ran. We shared an office separated by a partition—him on one side and my friend Camden and I on the other. In the mornings, I would come in around the same time, always with my bagel and cream cheese in hand. Ran would inevitably hear me rustling about and come to greet me with some comment about my relative earliness or lateness or the state of my bagel. And Ran always kept a drawer full of Junior Mints on his side, and I gradually came to use those candies as an excuse to sneak over for a short chat. (And occasionally because I was starving and too much of a workaholic to go to the HUB to get a snack.)

And over time, we became friends.

Ran and I at the Honors Scholarship Reception (2004)

UW Honors Staff (2004)

Honors Staff (2004)

Ran was a great guy to have in your life—he was friend and grandfather and professor and academic advisor all rolled into one. I remember him reading my application for the Beinecke Scholarship and giving me feedback. I remember him giving me advice when I was nervously considering taking my very first internship at the Environmental Protection Agency in far-away Washington D.C. (a time he would repeatedly remind me of over the years as I began to go places much scarier and more foreign). I remember that he would often bring me books related to Japan, odds and ends that had found their way into his book collection over the years. I’d find them on my desk with little post-it notes marked “Kristi.” Sometimes I’d find newspaper clippings that he’d cut out for me as well. And then there was the hilarious M&M-shaped computer screen cleaner that he gave me for Christmas once. So cute.

Me, Camden and Ran at a match of the Honors Croquet League (2003)

Me and Ran at my graduation (2005)

We became even closer after I graduated. Almost every time I returned to Seattle from 2005 until December 2009, I met up with Ran. And almost every single time, we went to the same place—Hale’s Ales in Fremont. We even ordered the same thing (a mushroom and swiss burger for him and a cheeseburger for me) and sat at nearly the same table. (Ran was honest albeit jovial about his dislike of change, and I have to admit that I echo the sentiment at times—why change what you know you like?). It got to the point where we wouldn’t even talk about where we were going to meet—Ran simply checked to see whether he had to pick me up from my brother’s house or whether I’d be driving up from Puyallup. And I was very often late, but he’d always bring a book and wait patiently for me. I’d regale him with tales of my latest overly-ambitious exploits in graduate school and vent my correspondingly deep frustrations. He’d inquire after my happiness and motivations and personal life and try to give me some perspective. And it was always good perspective. I could tell Ran anything. He was such a great listener. And he always had the best stories, about when he was in graduate school or going through tough times or in the Navy. Asking him a question, you always got the best answers.

In the end, it seems that Ran was able to pass peacefully, on his own terms, with his family close around him. He certainly lived a long and full life—though I have to confess, I really would have preferred that he’d stuck around for a couple of decades longer. Who’s going to tell me how on earth to get through my dissertation? Or comfort me about the woes of the job market and life as an assistant professor? I guess I’ll have to manage somehow.

Take care, Ran. You’re very much missed!!!

Ran’s obituary in the Seattle Times

A nice story from UW Athletics